Manners and social usages,


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A lady who assumes the control of an elegant house without previous training had better, for a year at least, employ an English house-keeper, who will teach her the system necessary to make so many servants work properly together; for, unless she knows how to manage them, each servant will be a trouble instead of a help, and there will be no end to that exasperating complaint, “That is not my work.”

The English house-keeper is given full power by her mistress to hire and discharge servants, to arrange their meals, their hours, and their duties, so as to make the domestic wheels run smoothly, and to achieve that perfection of service which all who have stayed in an English house can appreciate. She is a personage of much importance in the house. She generally dresses in moire antique, and is lofty in her manners. She alone, except the maid, approaches the mistress, and receives such general orders as that lady may choose to give. The house-keeper has her own room, where she takes her meals alone, or invites those whom she wishes to cat with her. Thus we see in English novels that the children sometimes take tea “in the house-keeper’s room.” It is generally a comfortable and snug place.

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But in this country very few such house-keepers can be found. The best that can be done is to secure the services of an efficient person content to be a servant herself, who will be a care-taker, and will train the butler, the footmen, and the maid-servants in their respective duties.

Twelve servants are not infrequently employed in large houses in this country, and in New York and at Newport often a larger number. These, with the staff of assistants required to cook and wash for them, form a large force for a lady to control.

The house-keeper should hire the cook and scullery-maid, and be responsible for them; she orders the dinner (if the lady chooses); she gives out the stores; the house linen is under her charge, and she must attend to mending and replenishing it; she must watch over the china and silver, and every day visit all the bedrooms to see that the chamber-maids have done their duty, and that writing-paper and ink and pens are laid on the tables of invited guests, and that candies, matches, and soap and towels are in their respective places.

A house-keeper should be able to make fine desserts, and to attend to all the sewing of the family, with the assistance of a maid–that is, the mending, and the hemming of the towels, etc. She should be firm and methodical, with a natural habit of command, and impartial in her dealings, but strict and exacting; she should compel each servant to do his duty, as she represents the mistress, and should be invested with her authority.

It is she who must receive the dessert when it

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comes from the dining-room, watch the half-emptied bottles of wine, which men-servants nearly always appropriate for their own use, and be, in all respects, a watch-dog for her master, as in large families servants are prone to steal all that may fall in their way.

Unfortunately a bad house-keeper is worse than none, and can steal to her heart’s content. Such a one, hired by a careless, pleasure-loving lady in New York, stole in a twelvemonth enough to live on for several years.

The house-keeper and the butler are seldom friends, and consequently many people consider it wise to hire a married couple competent to perform the duties of these two positions. If the two are honest, this is an excellent arrangement.

The butler is answerable for the property put in his charge, and for the proper performance of the duties of the footmen under his control. He must be the judge of what men can and should do. He is given the care of the wine, although every gentleman should keep the keys, only giving just so much to the butler as he intends shall be used each day. The plate is given to the butler, and he is made responsible for any articles missing; he also sees to the pantry, but has a maid or a footman to wash the dishes and cleanse the silver. All the arrangements for dinner devolve upon him, and when it is served he stands behind his mistress’s chair. He looks after the footman who answers the bell, and takes care that he shall be properly dressed and at his post.

In houses where there are two or three footmen the

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butler serves breakfast, luncheon, tea, and dinner, assisted by such of his acolytes as he may choose. He should also wait upon his master, if required, see that the library and smoking-room are aired and in Order, the newspaper brought in, the magazines cut, and the paper-knife in its place. Many gentlemen in this country send their butlers to market, and leave entirely to them the arrangement of the table.

If there is but one footman in a large house, the butler has a great deal to do, particularly if the family be a hospitable one. When the footman is out with the carriage the butler answers the front-door bell, but in very elegant houses there are generally two footmen, as this is not strictly the duty of a butler.

A lady’s-maid is indispensable to ladies who visit much, but this class of servant is the most difficult to manage. Ladies’-maids must be told, when hired, that they can have no such position in America as they have in England: that they must make their own beds, wash their own clothing, and eat with the other servants. They must be first-rate hair-dressers, good packers of trunks, and understand dress-making and fine starching, and be amiable, willing, and pleasant. A woman who combines these qualifications commands very high wages, and expects, as her perquisite, her mistress’s cast-off dresses.

French maids are in great demand, as they have a natural taste in all things pertaining to dress and the toilet, but they are apt to be untruthful and treacherous. If a lady can get a peasant girl from some rural district, she will find her a most useful and valuable maid after she has been taught.

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Many ladies educate some clever girl who has been maid for the position of house-keeper, and such a person, who can be trusted to hire an assistant, becomes invaluable. She often accomplishes all the dress-making and sewing for the household, and her salary of thirty dollars a month is well earned.

As the duties of a lady’s-maid, where there are young ladies, include attending them in the streets and to parties, she should be a person of unquestioned respectability. The maid should bring up the hot water for her ladies, and an early cup of tea, prepare their bath, assist at their toilet, put their clothes away, be ready to aid in every change of dress, put out their various dresses for riding, dining, walking, and for afternoon tea, dress their hair for dinner, and be ready to find for them their gloves, shoes, and other belongings.

A maid can be, and generally is, the most disagreeable of creatures; but some ladies have the tact to make good servants out of most unpromising materials.

The maid, if she does not accompany her mistress to a party and wait for her in the dressing-room, should await her arrival at home, assist her to undress, comb and brush her hair, and get ready the bath. She should also have a cup of hot tea or chocolate in readiness for her. She must keep her clothes in order, sew new ruffles in her dresses, and do all the millinery and dress-making required of her.

Very often the maid is required to attend to the bric-à-brac and pretty ornaments of the mantel, to keep fresh flowers in the drawing-room or bedroom, and, above all, to wash the pet dog. As almost all women are fond of dogs, this is not a disagreeable

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duty to a French maid, and she gives Fifine his bath without grumbling. But if she be expected to speak French to the children, she sometimes rebels, particularly if she and the nurse should not be good friends.

A lady, in hiring a maid, should specify the extra duties she will be required to perform, and thus give her the option of refusing the situation. If she accepts it, she must be made strictly to account for any neglect or omission of her work. A maid with an indulgent mistress is free in the evenings, after eight o’clock, and every Sunday afternoon.

In families where there are many children, two nurses are frequently required–a head nurse and an assistant.

The nursery governess is much oftener employed now in this country than in former years. This position is often filled by well-mannered and well-educated young women, who are the daughters of poor men, and obliged to earn their own living. These young women, if they are good and amiable, are invaluable to their mistresses. They perform the duties of a nurse, wash and dress the children, eat with them and teach them, the nursery-maid doing the coarse, rough work of the nursery. If a good nursery governess can be found, she is worth her weight in gold to her employer. She should not cat with the servants; there should be a separate table for her and her charges. This meal is prepared by the kitchen-maid, who is a very important functionary, almost an under-cook, as the chief cook in such an establishment as we are describing is absorbed in the composition of the grand dishes and dinners.

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The kitchen-maid should be a good, plain-cook, and clever in making the dishes suitable for children. Much of the elementary cooking for the dining-room, such as the foundation for sauces and soups, and the roasted and boiled joints, is required of her, and she also cooks the servants’ dinner, which should be an entirely different meal from that served in the dining-room. Nine meals a day are usually cooked in a family living in this manner–breakfast for servants, children, and the master and mistress, three; children’s dinner, servants’ dinner, and luncheon, another three; and the grand dinner at seven, the children’s tea, and the servants’ supper, the remaining three.

Where two footmen are in attendance, the head footman attends the door, waits on his mistress when she drives out, carries notes, assists the butler, lays the table and clears it, and washes glass, china, and silver. The under-footman rises at six, makes fires, cleans boots, trims and cleans the lamps, opens the shutters and the front-door, sweeps down the steps, and, indeed, does the rougher part of the work before the other servants begin their daily duties. Each should be without mustache, clean shaven, and clad in neat livery. His linen and white neck-tie should be, when he appears to wait on the family at table or in any capacity, immaculate.

The servants’ meals should be punctual and plenteous, although not luxurious. It is a bad plan to feed servants on the luxuries of the master’s table, but a good cook will be able to compound dishes for the kitchen that will be savory and palatable.